From babies to teens: 5 car seat safety tips worth knowing

I’m a stickler when it comes to car seat safety. I figure, we’re in the car for so many hours out of our days, it’s best to be up to date on the latest safety recommendations.

These are the top 5 tips I tell parents daily. A little preparation upfront and you can rest assured that you’re doing your best to keep your children as safe as possible in the event of a car accident.

And with all the summer travel we do, now is the perfect time to brush up, re-evaluate, and maximize car seat safety for your family.

1.  Keep your baby/toddler rear-facing as long as possible. Preferably, until at least 2 years old. Once your baby outgrows her infant car seat, she can graduate to a convertible car seat (one that can rear and forward face). And don’t worry, it’s perfectly fine for her to sit frog-legged back there.

2.  Keep your child in a 5 point harness for as long as possible. So, your child is 4 years old and weighs more than 4o pounds? No need to rush to the booster. My 7 year old son is still in a 5 point harness. I kid you not. Seriously, they make 5 point harnessed car seats that accommodate up to 80 pounds. As long as your child is within the height and weight limit of his 5 point harness, it really is the safer way to travel. Sure, he’s received some peer flak for it during car pools, but we shrug and laugh it off.

Safety is more important.

3.  The LATCH system has a weight limit. This is something that not many parents are aware of. The combination of your child’s weight plus the weight of your car seat should not exceed 65 pounds. If you’re unsure about the weight of your car seat, switch to the seat belt to secure the car seat if your child weighs more than 40 pounds.

4.  Don’t rush out of a booster. Once your child is ready for a booster, keep her there until she’s 4 feet 9 inches. This is to ensure that the seat belt fits your child properly and that it’s not riding across her neck or above her hips. Do this 5 step test to see if your child is ready to move out of her booster. This could be anywhere from 8-13 years old!

5.  No riding in the front seat until 13 years old. Stay strong on this one. The recommendation is a solid one. Though your “bigger than me” 12 year old may seem just fine in the front seat, on the inside her bones are still developing. Studies have demonstrated that the back seat is safest. Read this great post by Dr. Natasha Burgert on the whys of this important car safety rule.

Wishing you all fun and safe summer travels! What questions do you have about car seat safety?

More car seat safety reading and information:

The Car Seat Lady

Car Seat Info from the AAP

NHTSA on car seat safety

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7 Responses to From babies to teens: 5 car seat safety tips worth knowing
  1. Jes
    July 17, 2012 | 5:18 am

    Thank you for this post – it was very informative and I appreciate your suggestion to keep children rear-facing as long as possible. I think that piece of safety advice is largely misunderstood in the U.S. Even our pediatrician suggested we turn our son’s seat around at 12 months, but we held out much longer.

  2. Madhura
    July 17, 2012 | 5:56 am

    Cool tips, for a bit later. Thanks!

    Right now our biggest worry is that our ~2 year old snaps off his shoulder straps to look outside the window. Thankfully he still has a 5-point harness. But still, I wonder how we could stop him from doing that ?

  3. Michelle
    July 17, 2012 | 8:15 am

    So glad to see you address this! Parents are in such a rush to move up to the next step – not realizing each step up is less safe!! My 7 year old is still in a 5 point too.
    Another pediatrician/mommy

  4. Kiwi
    August 4, 2012 | 9:44 pm

    I had my full car seat until I think I was 1/2 way through or out of 2nd grade, and then I didn’t get out of my booster seat till I think the end of 3rd grade. Now I’m 13 and I wish I could sit in the front seat but I’m not allowed to. My mom says it is because I’m too small and way just enough to get out of a booster seat. But, I think that it is funny because some of my friends have been sitting in the front seat since they were in 3rd grade and that was when I was just sitting in a booster seat.

  5. Tony
    August 14, 2012 | 12:02 pm

    Great advice, but it seems a lot of people don’t do it. I was surprised to find out just how many people don’t follow the recommendations designed to protect their own kids especially as the kids get older. Apparently less than 2% of us (parents) use booster seats properly.

  6. Bonnie C
    August 29, 2012 | 10:58 am

    When I was researching carseats for our third “oops” baby, I found out that Sweden was one of the safest countries in the world regarding automobile related child injuries – something like less that 1 death per year, which is mind boggling. One of the reasons they atribute to this is that they keep their kids rear facing to five years old! Again with the mind boggling. When my first two hit the 12+20 mark, I had them front facing so fast it spun their little heads. My third is now 18 months and not quite 20 lbs, but I’m in no hurry to spin him around. I’m not going to keep him rear facing to five, but another 6 months or so isn’t that big a deal for either of us.

    My 7 and 5 year olds are both in highback boosters with seatbelts. We live in Colorado where my 7 year old is legally allowed to be up front and she does ride up there, but always in her booster. It’s good to have the info about developing bones – it’s not something I’d come across or considered before. Looks like I’m Tetrising my carseat collection (again) this afternoon – lol!

  7. Heligirl
    September 18, 2012 | 3:41 pm

    Excellent reminders Melissa. I am a very strong believer in the 5-point harness. Hubby keeps trying to get me to move the kids to a booster but I refuse. I get a lot of flack for that. And I didn’t know about the latch system. Thanks for the heads up!! Hope you’re well. Sorry I’ve been away so long. :)